Human Collateral: An Investment Background Comes in Handy During a Long Job Search

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After 20 years as a Chicago mutual fund portfolio manager, Jack was laid off in the summer of 2007. He's 50 year's old, would like to find a job, but has found few positions at his level. Fortunately, his finances allow him to take his time.

I was a portfolio manager of a mutual fund at a large European bank for 20 years. Actually, I stayed with the same company for two decades while the firm was bought and sold a few times. Gradually the bank eliminated most of its U.S. operations and in mid-2007 I was laid off.

My situation is different than a lot of people in that financially I did very well when I was working. My base salary when I left was $250,000 and my bonus would range from $450,000 to $650,000.

Initially after I was laid off I did some consulting. I didn't like it because I worked from home and it didn't have a lot of structure. That doesn't work well for me. I really like a structured environment and the social interaction of an office. That's a big positive of working for me.

After that project I decided to take some time off, but now I'd like to be working again. Financially, I'm not in a situation where I could retire - assuming the markets are stable now - but I enjoyed what I did and sometimes I do get down because of all the free time on my hands, especially in the winter. In the summer, there are lots of things to do outdoors, and during those months I'm actually glad that I'm not employed.

Now that I have so much free time I find that I spend more time investing for myself than I did when I was working. Trading restrictions prevented me from making investments, and now I spend a lot of time following the markets. I also travel a lot more. I joined a gym for the first time and bought a house which needs a lot of work.

There are two major problems preventing me from returning to work. There's a big movement to hire people with lower levels of experience - and lower levels of pay, of course. At first when I lost my job, I was applying for a lot of positions below what I had done previously, but the assumption of hiring managers is you'll get frustrated or leave for something better.

The other problem is that there simply aren't that many positions for me in Chicago. No one in Chicago even does what I do - almost all of those jobs are in New York or Boston. And now, with the financial crises, there aren't many positions in those cities, either.

Lately I've become more content with my situation and am exploring things that are a good match for my skills and experience, even if the pay isn't what I was making. I've been talking with a university foundation, for example.

I'm sure this two-and-a half-year gap in my resume would be an issue for an employer. People would probably wonder if the fact I haven't been working all this time means I don't want to work. But I haven't been on that many interviews lately, so I haven't had many questions on the issue.

Emma Johnson is a New York based journalist who writes about money, business and finance for publications including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Entrepreneur, Forbes, MSN Money and others. Reach her at

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